girls camping car

Cheap. Easy. Fun. Does this sound like your idea of camping? It can be, with just a smidgen of research and prep time. Of course, it’s easy to quickly turn the prospect of your first car camping trip into an epic time-suck project with a free side of extra stress. In the non-stop whirlwind lives we live today, our free time is precious and should be kept as stress-free as possible. On that note, we put together a handy guide to help make sure your very first car camping trip goes off without a hitch!

First things first, despite what it probably sounds like, “car camping” does not mean you are going to spend your vacation sleeping in your car (whew!). Rather, you can think of it like car-assisted camping. You’ll sleep in a tent out under the stars like a pro, but very nearby you will have practically anything you could ever need. As a first-time camper, you definitely want to camp with a car. Your car can get you out of harm’s way ASAP in the event of a sudden weather shift. Plus, your car can come in handy to store all the extra “just in case” stuff you packed. But best of all, if you do forget something essential, or you have an accident and need first aid or medical care, you’ll get there much faster if you can jump in the car and drive rather than first having to hike it back out again on foot. Here are five failsafe beginners’ car camping tips to keep in mind before your adventure.

Keep your first camping trip quick and local

Road tripping is always going to be a favorite. But if your goal is to camp successfully for the first time, don’t spend all your time putting miles on your wheels. Flip open your road atlas, note where you are on the map, and then locate the closest state or national park and star it. This is your destination.

Book your campsite reservation early

Unless you are planning to camp in Texas in February, you need to get your campsite reservations squared away PRONTO. Do this first, or run the risk of completing lots of legwork only to discover all the campsites are taken or the park is closed down during the off-season dates you’ve selected.

State and national parks are particularly reliable about providing cleared and well-maintained campsites with lots of amenities, like toilets, showers, or grills.

camp view from tent

Campsites range in price from around $10 a night to around $30 a night. The earlier you put in your reservation request, the more different types of campsites you will have to choose from.

Bring only the budget basics

If you are someone who tends to over pack, you may struggle a bit with this one. But once you arrive and your campsite setup is a breeze, you will know the struggle was worth it. However, if you lose the struggle this first time, don’t despair! Just pay attention to how much of what you brought you actually use. This can help streamline your packing list for future camping adventures. Here’s a list of items you’ll want to bring with you.

friends camping

Ease up on the food

Keep your food plans simple and quick. Items you can expect to be able to pick up locally at reasonable prices include bagged ice, some fresh produce (bananas, apples, etc.), beverages, and pre-packaged soup or cereal where you can just add hot water and mix.

Arrive during daylight hours

Finally, there is nothing quite so stress-relieving as arriving at your destination during the day when you can see everything. This way, you can scope out your campsite, set up your tent, get the lay of the land, nab a few items you may need for cooking dinner, and even take a short hike or swim if time and geography permits.

night camping under the stars

Of course there are a million things that could go awry that get no mention here. But most of those things won’t happen, and the few that do will most likely be easily fixable with a little help from friendly locals and your handy vehicle. Once you get the general hang of camping itself and start to notice your personal campsite preferences, you can ramp up the difficulty level, from choosing a hike-in/hike-out campsite where your car is now parked a short distance away from your tent, to going off-the-grid backcountry for real.

When you set yourself up for camping success by starting off small and simple, you will have lots more smiles and adventures to look forward to on future camping trips together!